The Prince of Tides novel

Dust jacket of “Prince of Tides” shows marshes as storm rolls in
South Carolina tidal marshes

The Prince of Tides is one of those rare novels capable of making a poor Southern family interesting without first making them rich.

Pat Conroy sets his tale on the South Carolina coast, home to the Wingo family.

Tom Wingo’s marriage to a doctor has been rocky since Tom was fired as a high school football coach.

When Tom’s twin sister, Savanna, a poet, attempts suicide, Tom flies to in New York City to be with her.

From what Savanna has said in the hospital and from her poetry, psychiatrist Susan Lowenstein senses deep trauma.

Since Savanna refuses to see Tom, Lowenstein asks Tom to meet with her regularly to fill in the gaps in Savanna’s history.

Those sessions allow Conroy to shift readers’ attention between past and present.

In bits and pieces, Tom lays out the Wingo family history from World War II to the 1980s. Some of the bits are horrific, but Conroy renders none salacious.

Conroy has a keen instinct for the details that make places and people pop off the page with cinematic clarity.

The Wingos are a messed-up family, but finally the twins and their older brother, Luke, mature enough to forgive their parents “for not having been born perfect.”

The Prince of Tides by Pat Conroy
Houghton Mifflin Co., ©1986. 567 p.
1986 bestseller #9; my grade: A

©2019 Linda G. Aragoni

Danielle Steel’s Full Circle goes flat

interlocking circles on “Full Circle” cover represent mother-daughter relationships
The interlocking circles are a visual metaphor

Full Circle is a story about mothers and daughters.

Jean Roberts’s husband enlists right after Pearl Harbor and is killed before Tana is born. Jean is determined Tana won’t have to struggle as she did.

Jean becomes assistant to a wealthy Arthur Dunning, performing all wifely duties without benefit of marriage.

When Tana is 15, Arthur’s son rapes her.

Jean refuses to believe Tana’s story.

In response, Tana shuts herself off emotionally.

Fortunately, she meets Harry Winslow who loves her enough to respect her desire that they never be more than friends.

Tana leaves home for college, then on to study law.

When Harry loses his legs in Vietnam, Tana talks him into studying law, too. When Harry is admitted, the two rent a house together, much to Jean’s horror.

Harry and Tana remain only friends.  Harry marries and Tana acts as godmother to Harry’s children.

Tana becomes a prosecutor, then a judge.

All her life Tana fights against her mother’s definition of what a woman needs to be fulfilled.

Danielle Steel’s story is intriguing but it never feels like more than a movie script: It needs some real people to show the emotional turmoil Steel’s stage directions require.

Full Circle by Danielle Steel
Delacorte Press. ©1984. 324 p.
1984 bestseller #8. My Grade: B-

©2019 Linda G. Aragoni

Goodbye, Janette. Sorry to have read you.

name Harold Robbins in large red type, title smaller, both superimposed on woman’s faceHarold Robbins’ 1981 bestseller Goodbye, Janette is a new low for a writer I thought couldn’t get any worse.

The book opens as the Allies are about to take over occupied France. A French collaborator named Maurice and a German general are preparing to escape separately.

They have put Jewish companies they operated during the war in the name of the beautiful Polish woman the General rescued from the concentration camps.

By convincing his uncle that he worked undercover for the Allies, Maurice will assure he inherits the title Marquis be Beauville. Then he’ll marry Tanya, giving her and her daughter, Janette, French citizenship. The General will join his family in South America.

When life returns to normal, all parties will profit.

That might have become a good novel.

Robbins turns it into a visual encyclopedia of sexual perversions.

After literally taking a whipping from Maurice, Tanya outsmarts him. They remain married, live more or less under the same roof.

Tanya isn’t aware that Maurice has started molesting Janette until she becomes pregnant after a week of being raped and beaten by Maurice and his male lover.

All that happens in the first third of the novel.

It goes downhill from there.

Don’t even say hello to Goodbye, Janette.

Goodbye, Janette by Harold Robbins
Simon and Schuster. ©1981. 382 p.
1981 bestseller #7. My grade: D-

©2019 Linda G. Aragoni

‘Princess Daisy’

From the cover of “Princess Daisy,” a silvery-blonde woman's black eyes hold the reader's eyes.
The princess has captivating eyes.

There’s enough raw material—I use the word raw advisedly—in Princess Daisy for a half dozen novels. Unfortunately, Judith Krantz put all of it in one seemingly interminable, disjointed novel.

“Daisy” Vanesky is the elder of twins. Her father, a Russian Prince, rejected her mentally retarded sister. When their mother dies, he places Dani in an institution in England.

At Vanesky’s death, the twins’ older half-brother, appropriately nicknamed Ram, is left to manage the investments Vanesky’s made on behalf of the twins and his mistress, Anabel de Fourment.

When Anabel learns Ram raped Daisy, she sends Daisy to California to attend college with a friend’s daughter.

The women’s investments fail.

Daisy gets work in production of TV commercials, drawing portraits of children on horses to weekends to earn money to pay for Dani’s care.

The real story of how Daisy becomes “Princess Daisy” is crammed into fewer than 100 pages.

Princess Daisy seems to have dozens of subplots, few of which are actually necessary and most of which aren’t particularly interesting.

At the end of a chapter of Princess Daisy, I’d check to see how many more pages I had to read. The answer was always, too many.

Princess Daisy by Judith Krantz
Crown Publishers. 1st ed. ©1980. 464 p.
1980 bestseller #4. My grade: C-

© 2019 Linda G. Aragoni

The Fan Club: Another name for rape

Depending on your gender, Irving Wallace’s The Fan Club is either about the ultimate high or the worst degradation.

The Fan Club acts out its fantasies.

An interview fabricated by Sharon Field’s PR agent reveals Hollywood’s “Love Goddess” longs for an ordinary man to love her.

Adam Malone, a part-time grocery clerk and wannabe writer, enlists three other  equally ordinary, and equally gullible men to kidnap Sharon believing if she meets them, she’ll willingly have sex with them.

The four agree if Sharon won’t willingly participate, they’ll release her.

Once they have Sharon in an isolated mountain cabin, Adam’s quixotism is trampled by his three accomplices’ sex drive.

The men tie her down and rape her.

One beats her.

Using her dramatic skills and retentive memory, Sharon fights back.

A less skillful writer than Wallace would have reduced the kidnappers to stereotypes. Wallace makes each of them distinct individuals whose behavior is as plausible as it is despicable.

He also makes clear that when sex is used to sell entertainment, the entertainment industry must accept some blame if people believe the stories they’re told.

Wallace blows his superb plotting with what may possibly be the most implausible ending on any 20th century novel.

The Fan Club by Irving Wallace
Simon and Schuster [1974] 511 p.
1974 bestseller #10. My grade: B.

© 2018 Linda Gorton Aragoni

The Seven Minutes: A case against censorship

The Seven Minutes is a novel about a novel.

Barely visible nude woman on her back
The sexual element is central to, but not the focus of,  Irving Wallace’s bestseller The Seven Minutes.

An Oakland, CA, bookstore owner sells a pre-release copy of The Seven Minutes to undercover cops who arrest him for selling pornography.

Shortly thereafter, a college boy from a good family confesses to rape and murder. He claims reading the French-printed copy of the novel, which was banned worldwide as pornographic and blasphemous, was behind his assault.

Fearing he’ll be left with thousands of unsaleable books, the publisher hires his friend Michael Barrett to defend the bookstore owner.

The District Attorney realizes that by prosecuting the case he can muster support for his planned run for Congress.

Despite its sexy topic (the banned novel relates a woman’s thoughts during seven minutes of sexual intercourse) I suspect many readers found The Seven Minutes over-hyped.

Although there is graphic sex in the novel—and some scuzzy lowlife characters—it’s a small portion of the page count.

The meat of the story is the exhausting legwork the defense slogs through to build its case.

Irving Wallace gives Barrett long passages to recite from cases and legal scholars. Unless Barrett has a photographic memory, the quotations not only  interrupt the story flow, but are implausible.

If you’re interested in the censorship issues, I suggest you read The Seven Minutes once for the story, then go back to examine the legal arguments.

The Seven Minutes by Irving Wallace
Pocket Books, 1969. [paper] 630 p. 1969 bestseller #6. My grade: B.

© 2017 Linda Gorton Aragoni

The Sheik No Better Second Year on Top 10

In 1922 Edith M. Hull’s novel The Sheik placed second on the bestseller list, up from sixth place the year before. Except as an historical curiosity, The Sheik is not worth reading.

However, with its exotic setting in the North African desert and it’s scandalous story about a British woman kidnapped and raped by a swarthy tribal commander, the novel seemed tailor-made for the cinema.

In 1921, it was turned into a black and white movie staring Rudolph Valentino as Sheik Ahmed Ben Hassan. The film version is available online from Black and White Movies.

If your computer supports frames, you can watch the flick here.
http://www.archive.org/embed/TheSheik
Free movies

© 2012 Linda Gorton Aragoni

Fast-paced Sheik blurs absurdities

Orphaned as an infant, Diana Mayo was brought up by a much older brother, who treated her as if she were a boy.

When she reaches adulthood and financial independence, the fearless and foolhardy Diana goes for a month  into the North African desert accompanied only by native camel drivers and servants.

She is captured by the eponymous Sheik Ahmed Ben Hassan. He rapes her, subdues her, and commands her obedience.

Diana escapes.

Ahmed brings her back by force.

In her exhaustion, Diana realizes she loves Ahmed for his strength, brutality, and animality.  But horrors! Ahmed’s a different race and color.

Meanwhile, Ahmed’s jealousy of his long-time friend  Raoul de Saint Hubert  makes the Sheik  realize he loves Diana.

Raoul tells Diana that Ahmed is not an Arab at all, but half English, half Spanish. The news assures Diana she can live happily with her Sheik.  Apparently being raped is OK as long as the rapist is a European.

This  is ridiculous stuff, but author Ethel M. Hull keeps the story moving so you don’t realize how absurd it is until you’re read so much of the book that you might as well finish.

The Sheik: A Novel
by Ethel M. Hull
1921 bestseller #6
Project Gutenberg Ebook #7031 
My grade: C
© 2011 Linda Gorton Aragoni

Peyton Place Not Worth Return Visit

I’d always assumed Peyton Place was a salacious novel. It’s not. Sex figures in the plot, but the novel’s not about gratuitous sex.

The story is set just before World War II in a small New England town with all the usual small-town characteristics, notably gossip, grudges, and inbreeding.

There is the usual cast of characters: the dedicated doctor, the cynical newspaper editor, the bullying industrialist, the spinster school teacher, the poor-but-deserving young person.

The central event of the novel is Lucas Clark’s rape of his stepdaughter, Selena. Everyone else in Peyton Place gets tangled in the events that follow.

The novel might not have caused any raised eyebrows if it had been set in the South.  We don’t associate slum lords, tar paper shacks, and shantytowns with Connecticut villages. The idea that poor white trash like Clark and his drunken pals live in rural towns graced by pristine, white church steeples is unsettling, almost obscene.

Author Grace Metalious writes about the entire town but fails to make readers care about any of its residents. There’s enough story to make a TV mini-series, but not enough character development for an enduring novel.

Peyton Place
By Grade Metalious
Simon & Schuster, 1956
372 pages
#2 on the 1957 bestseller list
© 2007 Linda Gorton Aragoni

By Love Possessed: Too many pages, too many semicolons

By Love Possessed covers 49 hours in the life of Arthur Winner, a respected lawyer in a small, rural New England town in the early 1940s.

James Gould Cozzens puts readers inside Arthur’s head. They see the story unfold through his eyes. They also hear what Arthur thinks and feels about what’s happening.

Since there’s no narrator to provide context, readers have to figure out who is who  and what’s going on. That’s not easy.

At times, By Love Possessed reads more like By Semicolons Obsessed. This is dense prose, folks.

If you dig long enough, the plot that emerges is this: Ralph, the brother of one of the secretaries in Arthur’s office, is accused of rape. Arthur jumps in with all lawyerly speed. While working on Ralph’s problem, Arthur learns he’s got a few problems of his own. Meanwhile,  unhappy with lawyerly speed, folks take things into their own hands, bringing the plot to a climax while Arthur fritters.

This novel could have been a lot better if it had been 200 pages shorter. Cozzens got so wrapped up in producing a literary work, he forgot about telling a story.

Too bad.

With ruthless editing, this could have been a great novel.

By Love Possessed
By James Gould Cozzens
Harcourt, Brace, 1957
570 pages
#1 bestselling novel for 1957
My grade: C
© 2007 Linda Gorton Aragoni